Concert Review: Igor • Bruch and Bruckner – Orchestra of the Music Makers, Chan Tze Law, 8 June 2019

Igor Yuzefovich, Chan Tze Law and the Orchestra of the Music Makers

Lee Jinjun The Red Longkang
Max Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1
Anton Bruckner Symphony No. 7

Chan Tze Law conductor
Igor Yuzefovich violin

Orchestra of the Music Makers
8 June 2019, SOTA Concert Hall

Review by Derek Lim

If Mahler’s time has come, it may be said that Bruckner’s has yet to. It is true that there are many recordings of his symphonies in the catalogue, but his works have never drawn the same kind of fervent devotion associated with Mahler, or even Sibelius. They are not ‘popular’ and maybe they never will be.

Perhaps this is because they don’t speak to the angsty Zeitgeist of the times, or give opportunities for orchestras to showcase flashy virtuosity. Yet they represent symphonic mountain peaks, willing orchestras to climb them – in this case, his Seventh Symphony, with the Orchestra of the Music Makers.

Lee Jinjun conducting his ‘Red Longkang’

The evening began with Lee Jinjun’s ‘The Red Longkang’. Ostensibly named after the red canal behind the composer’s house, he cheerfully quoted Johann Strauss II, Richard Strauss, Mahler, ‘Rule Britannia’ and popular music in quick succession, with skillful orchestration which at one part had the violinists snapping their fingers to evoke the patter of rain. As much about fin de siecle Vienna as it was about the Singapore River, it was a fun piece, that at about 7 minutes long, didn’t outlive its welcome. Lee, in his conducting debut, did a creditable job in realising his creation.

Bruch’s violin concerto is such a tired warhorse that it takes something special to make this listener perk up his ears. Outgoing Singapore Symphony Orchestra concertmaster, Igor Yuzefovich, was technically sound in the solo part, handling double stops and rapid position changes with ease and perfect intonation. Better in the lyric, melodic sections, he delivered a meltingly beautiful second movement. It was in the more overtly virtuosic passages that one wished for something less mellow, less cautious. His collaboration with conductor Chan Tze Law was comfortable to a fault, with soloist and orchestra hardly playing off one another, despite generally fine playing from the OMM. As a whole, it felt almost too clear-headed, with even the brilliant finale lacking sparkle. A memory slip in the finale threatened momentarily to derail the proceedings but Yuzefovich recovered almost instantly, consummate professional that he is, to end the concerto decisively.

The OMM has shown in the past its affinity with Mahler, but this was its first foray into Bruckner. I don’t know if it was also Chan Tze Law’s first time conducting Bruckner, but he sure knows his way around the symphony. His approach was Classical, with moderately quick tempi throughout, keeping an eye on the ‘long line’, while not neglecting episodic details – important in such a long work. With agogics kept at a minimum, he constantly moved the music along, building up massive climaxes while never letting them become overblown. The tragic minor key passages in the first movement were passionately played, even if the attack from the strings was sometimes softer than expected – a matter of experience, perhaps.

The Adagio was taken at a fluid tempo, with the four Wagner tubas making their mark each time the tragic Siegfried theme made its appearance, resulting in a tragedy felt more muted than full-blown. The contrasting lyrical theme bloomed nicely, but didn’t have the freedom of more seasoned interpretations. The brass were magnificent here, and wonderful whenever they sounded, but it felt like the orchestra were a few rehearsals away from feeling comfortable in this music.

The foot-stamping Scherzo was the best-played of the evening, despatched speedily with an infectious energy that made the opening passages of the ensuing Finale feel like it lacked sparkle in comparison. The pace picked up, though, and triumphant chorale coda was brashly, brilliantly played. A worthy first effort!

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